Crushing the inner critic

It is the devil that lies within us all, the inner critic.  That voice inside our head that tells us we’re not good enough.  We feel that we are the only ones with this horrid person rambling in our head but we’re not alone and that’s something to take comfort in.

A few weeks ago I went to a workshop run by one of my colleagues about blogging.  She brought up the Imposter Syndrome.  I tImage (rsz) by Paul Sableman, courtesy of flickr, CC-BY-2.0hought I’d heard of this somewhere before and when she went on to talk about it I was surprised.  Alright! It’s an actual thing!  It was a relief that I’m not the only one that feels like this (a pain shared is a pain halved in my book!).  Apparently over 70% of people will experience it at some point in their lives. Thoughts of I’m not good enough at x and that other people are better at y than me, I shouldn’t have got that job over other people, surely more skilled than me.  More often than not if I’m asked to do something outside of my realm or with a bit of responsibility or exposure, my gut reaction is a feeling of fear.  So I took the Imposter Test, written by Atlanta Psychologist, Pauline Rose Clance.  I scored 153.  That’s high.

As the saying goes, we “compare our insides with other people’s outsides”, and judge ourselves lacking as a consequence.

It’s a problem rendered more acute by social media, which encourages us to present to the world a “highlights reel” of our lives, rather than the messy psychological reality.  – Oliver Burkeman

Why?  Why do we think like this?  Why on earth would we do it to ourselves?  Imposter Syndrome and the Inner Critic are often attributed to parenting styles, neuroticism (note: in 1996, a specific human gene and its corresponding alleles [two components of a gene which are responsible for encoding the gene] were linked to neuroticism, so you can blame your genes when you feel neurotic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that). Also being a minority in the workplace.

In doing some follow-up reading though, it’s not all doom and gloom. Image by DaPuglet, courtesy of Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0Some people say that it can be a good thing or even be a sign of greatness, it can drive you to try harder, you’re more aware of your personal traits and can work to adapt to these, the most uplifting though is that if you feel like you are a fraud, chances are you’re not. You wouldn’t be questioning yourself.  If you were blindly confident, you’d more likely be experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias where you overestimate your abilities and/or knowledge and don’t have the self-awareness to realise it.  And people might run from you at social events.

So when that inner critic or imposter syndrome hits you hard in the cognitive domain, what can you do?

Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

1. Thank your mind for the thought and let it slide on by.  Acknowledging the thought stops you from obsessing over it and make it easier to let it go.

2. Ask yourself “Is this thought really true? What evidence is there?”  What evidence is there that your inner critic is wrong and just trying to drag you down?  I’m sure there’s a lot of examples that can prove that devil wrong.

2. Talking to yourself as if you are someone else, giving someone else advice.

A recent study conducted at the University of Michigan discovered that by using a subtle linguistic shift of “you” (or your own name) instead of using “I”, we are able to change the way we feel and behave. The research added that by talking to yourself in a first person view, using the word “I” all the time can actually stress us out instead of bringing on self-love and acceptance.

3. Don’t criticise yourself, it will only make you feel worse.  Buying you're great!into the negative thoughts feeds the monster and the voice will get stronger. Remember how great you are!  Keep cards, emails or social media posts where someone has told you how awesome you are and remind yourself of that.

4. Replace those negative thoughts with a polar bear.  True.  Every time you think a negative-self thought, picture a polar bear in your mind.  Once you’ve got it in your mind, think of your favourite, amazing animal.  It’s all about transforming the thoughts.

Unfortunately, we are “wired” to remember the negative more than the positive. Why? It is part of our evolutionary history. Negative experiences can have more severe, life-threatening survival consequences than positive ones. Not remembering your negative experience with the lion that chased you can have more disastrous consequences than not remembering that those berries tasted pretty good. So we tend to dwell on and relive our negative experiences. It is our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe. – Denise Cummin Ph.D.

5. If someone gives you a compliment, say thank you and own it!  Undoubtedly someone wouldn’t be giving you a compliment unless they meant it.  It’s ok to be humble but it’s ok to be proud or good at something.

6. Be kind to yourself!

Do you have any other strategies that have worked?  Or do you know someone with the Dunning-Kruger effect? (No names of course).


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